Creating change for women working in male dominated industries: Sonya Byers, CEO of Woman in Transport
Sonya Byers, is a woman on a mission. She is the CEO of Women in Transport, a non-profit that empowers women in the transport industry to maximise their potential.
Sonya is someone who loves what she does. Passion and enthusiasm radiates from her, and if she found a way to bottle it, I would buy it!
Directing her own career path, she has landed exactly where she is meant to be. Not always taking the obvious and easy route to get there, she knew what was important to her and invested in the things that matter most. In both her work and personal life. Sonya has made her own destiny. Proposing herself to be the CEO of Women in Transport, despite the role not there for the taking. Creating her own career path for something she was so truly passionate about.
“I love my job, it gives me purpose and the community is amazing. There is so much work to do, but we’re making a positive difference. If we help even one woman have a safe space to share her experiences, somewhere to help progress her career and give her the visibility to get there. Then we’ve done our job!”
Sonya’s recent achievements include great feedback from initiatives like Advance mentoring programme available to all Women in Transport members. Regardless of level or discipline across transport and infrastructure.
Women in Transport also offers a virtual leadership development programme – Lead. The eight-month programme has seen women participate on holiday, on maternity leave and with babes in arms. Nearly half of the women participating in the Lead programme so far have been promoted.
“It really is quite wonderful to see these incredible women supporting each other and inspiring others. They were already awesome; we’re just helping them shine brighter. My hope is that we continue to break down barriers for women to have equal access to development opportunities and progression.”
As the Women in Transport website tells us, women still remain underrepresented in the transport sector accounting for only 26 per cent of workers. So, it wasn’t surprising to hear that Sonya began her career in transport by chance, rather than by choice.
Having no idea about the vast breadth of careers within transport, Sonya took a job working in a traffic survey team. A short-term plan at the time, whilst looking into other options when she had finished her degree in European Business.
Going on to become a transport planner, Sonya started to enjoy both the variety and great work culture around her. Making her think for the first time that this could be a long-term career option. Even now, Sonya recognises how unique this experience was and that sadly it wasn’t the case for everyone coming into the industry, especially women.
By the age of 27, Sonya was offered a technical directorship role with an offer to double her salary. Despite the temptation, she refused as it lacked that nurturing and learning culture she thrived. Over time she began to witness behaviour she wasn’t comfortable with, and slowly became more aware of the issues women faced when working in male dominated environments. That’s when she came across Women in Transport at an event and signed up.
“I have to say I was a bit intimidated to join my first Women in Transport event, but I needn’t have worried. I was welcomed with open arms and now these women are incredible lifelong friends and I have the privilege of leading it.”
Women in Transport started 18 years ago, and Sonya became a member three years into it starting. Joining the board in 2013 as the Events Chair building her confidence in her ability to keep going.
“I always knew I had the network to fall back on. Even when I faced difficult times. When I was made redundant, people in the network offered help and support. I was so grateful for that. I knew it was going to be hard, but I knew I would be ok. And that is because of the Women in Transport network.”
The need to have a positive work culture became even more prominent when she was later diagnosed with a long-term medical condition she never knew she had. Mental and physical health is carried over into her personal life and as parkrun Global Trustee she participates most Saturdays and Sundays. A family affair where she is joined by her husband, brother, Mum, Dad, and 3 year old daughter (who is also known to run 2k!).
With so many hats to wear, I can’t help but admire and wonder how Sonya manages to find the motivation, energy and time to balance so much.
“I haven’t got a magic solution. Women can have it all, but not all at the same time. It’s not easy. parkrun for me is important. It’s important to my own wellbeing. Something for myself as well as doing something with my family, so I make time for it. We will always have a guilt about something and it’s a constant balancing act. But it’s important that the choices we make reflect what’s right for now. Some things are going to drop because of prioritising certain aspects of your life, and that’s ok”.
If you would like to know more about Women in Transport’s Advance mentoring and LEAD programme please visit:
Read more she shares here